What Is Speaking About: An Introvert’s Perspective

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Dear Speaker,

As an introvert, I’ve often wondered what speaking is about. I’ve seen so many other people throughout my life talk as if they know exactly what to say in each circumstance while I’m surprised if I say anything at all.

There are countless times where I’ve been thankful that I did talk, but that doesn’t always work out. I’ve made so many mistakes. I didn’t use the right tone or speak at the right time or say the right words. Or worst of all, I didn’t speak loudly enough. It can seem like speaking is a magic trick that others can pull off while success in this area has largely eluded me.

Why does speaking exist? Is it because we don’t have telepathy? Is it so someone like me can have something else to be embarrassed about?

What is speaking about anyway? It isn’t as bad as I make it seem to be. I know that much for sure. I’ll give an introvert’s perspective on the matter since it’s the only one I have.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or an ambivert, which is somewhere in the middle, you’re sure to have some food for thought as we explore the subject of speaking together.

Is Speaking Communication?

To start with, it’s important to consider if speaking is communication or not.

I’ve been to communication courses, and the course leader stated that speaking is not communication. At least not by itself.

That’s different than what I had thought up to that point. I thought that because I’m not speaking the vast majority of the time that I’m not communicating. Or that out of however many people were present for a conversation where I’ve been the one to speak the least — and this has typically been the case — that my presence there was the least important.

At those communication courses, the course leader said that unless listening was part of a conversation, then communication was not present. Without listening, there is no communication.

That changes things. It’s enough to shed light on interactions where I’ve wondered why I was there at all.

For over 30 years, I’ve been in countless, spectacularly one-sided conversations where I’ve been quiet almost the entire time and the other person has talked — for up to 13 hours or longer! — while barely taking any breaks to breathe. I’ve wondered if they really enjoyed the sound of their own voice that much or if I was basically just a listening post and didn’t serve any useful function in life or some other negative interpretation of the events.

Then I learned that listening is communication, and now I can look back at those and other conversations and see that maybe I was giving value. By listening. At least it’s a possibility. And it’s one I can learn to live with.

In Numerology, my life path is 3, which is the Communicator. I used to think that meant I would be speaking a lot — or at least a lot more — and therefore communicating. I see as I write these words that I get to live up to my life path by listening. Oh sure, I get to speak sometimes, but even when I don’t speak, I still get to give value. As long as I’m listening.

Which brings me to a danger that speaking has…

Speaking Can Get in the Way of Listening

An acting teacher told me in an acting class that the most important part of acting is listening. Don’t act like you’re simply waiting for the other person to be done saying their lines so you can say your lines. It’s not all about you. It’s about them, too. Act like you’re listening, and really do listen. That is much more effective. That is being generous as an actor.

And that acting lesson translates perfectly to real life.

Speaking can get in the way of listening. I can certainly attest to that. I’ve been on both sides of it. I haven’t listened, and I haven’t been listened to. When communication is absent, that is to say, when listening is absent, and when things carry on like that for a while, that’s when relationships of various kinds die. Both sides need to be heard. There’s no avoiding the necessity of that.

When I haven’t listened, I acted like I’m the only one that matters. Whether or not I realized it at the time.

When the other person hasn’t listened, I’ve felt multiple painful things. Real or imagined. I’ve felt that I don’t matter, that I don’t have a voice, that I’m powerless, that I’m not needed, that I have nothing to say and nothing worth listening to, that they don’t care about me, and so on.

Then I’ve realized those are things that other people have felt when I haven’t listened. And it hurts when I’ve identified with what I’ve put them through. It hasn’t only been my pain that matters. Their pain matters, too.

I’ve seen that I need to get past my own pain long enough and quickly enough so I can be present and really listen. That’s when I get to help bear others’ burdens. Why not? Our burdens get so big that it can be too much to deal with on our own. We’re here to help each other after all. Otherwise, what is life about?

I have had multiple people throughout my life listen to me. Really listen. And I’m extremely grateful for them and for those times. I haven’t always had to listen only. I’ve been listened to as well.

I’ve heard that half of the people who go to counselors go simply because they need to be heard and that no one else in their lives will really listen to them. I’ve gone to a counselor, too, and I found that it does help. My depression and my anxiety measurably decreased, among other benefits. I had a safe space to speak and be listened to. That’s worth more than gold.

Maybe I played the role of a counselor over the course of multiple decades when I listened and others talked for hours on end. They felt safe enough to speak and be listened to. Perhaps they didn’t have that from many others in their lives.

Wouldn’t it help make someone’s life if you provided a safe space for them to speak and be listened to? Not just their day. Their life.

Is the Solution to Listen More Than You Speak?

“We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus

Listening helps you know what to say.

It also helps you know what to create.

The example of product creation keeps coming to mind. Which approach do you think works the best: guessing what your target market wants and creating it for them without any input from them OR actually talking to your target market and then creating products and services based on what they’ve told you they need, want, and would buy?

With the first approach, you’re wearing a blindfold in a dark room while facing the opposite way of where you want to go. And with the second approach, the light is on, the blindfold is off, and you’re facing your desired direction. Your goal is within reach.

I’ve seen big businesses repeatedly asking for feedback from their customers and clients. They want to hear from you. I consider that willingness to listen to be one of the reasons why they got so big in the first place and why they’ve stayed that way.

While it’s true that each person might as well have the words “Make me feel important” on their foreheads, what do you think is the most effective way to make them feel important?

That’s right. By listening to them.

Speaking can get in the way of listening, and the solution is to listen more than you speak. And listen while you’re speaking, too.

If there were a lot more people on this planet who actively listened, including you and me, I see how that would solve a lot of the problems we face. Unless I’m really off the mark, what people are looking for is connection with themselves and with each other. Genuine, supportive, loving connections.

If more people had that, I can imagine that they wouldn’t feel the need for various addictions any more. They would take better care of themselves and of others. If they are listened to, they might also listen to others.

Listening can have a positive ripple effect.

Sure, you listening more than you speak might not be enough on its own to bring about world peace, but the ripple effect could go farther than you ever expect.

And if enough people listen more than they speak, what would happen?

I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to find out.

Show That You Listen When You Speak

I’ve asked “What is speaking about?” and I’ve talked a lot about listening here. Why is that?

Generally speaking, the extroverts talk too much, and the introverts talk too little. Not everyone is an ambivert. We don’t all have a balance between the two.

Extroverts can benefit by listening more, and introverts can benefit by speaking more. With me being an introvert, naturally my perspective is from listening.

If those who naturally speak more would listen more instead, that frees up the space for those of us who naturally listen more to speak more instead. To share what we’ve learned by listening so much. And we’ve learned more than we’ve been able to express so far.

Some of us quiet ones have to turn to forms of expression such as writing in an effort to be heard.

In my case, I’m extremely grateful to have this website. My writing is one way that I finally get to express myself. I often think, especially these days, that I write more than I speak. And this is probably the case. Doesn’t mean it’ll always be like this. I do expect that I’ll have times in my life when I’ll get to speak more than I’ve normally gotten to.

During the last couple months, I’ve noticed that I’m more comfortable talking to animals than to people. It’s like I’ve found animals to be overall better listeners than people. It’s often soothing to spend time with animals. They’re so accepting. They don’t get offended if I don’t use the right combination of words at the right time and in the right tone.

Spending time in nature and with animals are forms of therapy. Nature listens. Animals listen. They communicate.

As humans, we’ve got a lot we can learn from nature and from animals. We can listen, too. We don’t always have to say anything in response to what another person has said. Sometimes a loving expression, a hug, or some other show of welcome affection can be enough. Simply being there patiently can speak volumes, too. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to say. Sometimes you don’t have to say anything at all to show your love.

And when you do speak, show that you listen. Don’t interrupt, if possible. Build on what the other person said. Really listen instead of simply waiting for it to be your turn to speak. The importance of that cannot possibly be overstated.

It’s not all about you. It’s about them, too. Really listening is much more effective, and it’s being generous as a person.

Listening is probably the greatest gift you can give. Remember that whenever you find yourself with the opportunity to listen to yourself and to others. You have so much value to give. By listening.

Give the gift of listening today. There are those who will absolutely love you for doing that. And you might make someone’s life by listening to them. Not just their day. Their life.

Keep that in mind when you consider how much of a difference you can make in someone’s life. You might think that you’re doing nothing at all, and it can turn out that they’ll be grateful for you for the rest of their life.

Conclusion

What does anyone want the most in their lives?

To be heard.

How much human suffering comes from not being heard?

I don’t know if that amount can even be measured.

Imagine if somehow everyone gets heard. What would the planet look like then? How would life be?

Be a part of that transformation as much as you can. Listen when you speak, and listen when you’re not speaking. Your voice can be heard, and you can help other voices be heard, too. You are an important part of life whether you realize it or not.

Thank you for listening. I’m grateful for you. Have an excellent day. Also, remember that you’re greater than you think, stronger than you know, and more powerful than you realize.

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Until next time,

James Barnett

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